Ending a campaign that never caught fire among donors or Republican activists, Rick Lazio announced Monday he would forgo the Conservative Party nomination for governor, but he stopped short of backing Carl Paladino, the upstart who vanquished him in the GOP primary.
Speaking from the same midtown Manhattan hotel where he won the Conservative and Republican party nods, Lazio said he was leaving the race to give Paladino a better chance to defeat Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. "While my heart beckons me forward, my head says doing so would lead to the election of Andrew Cuomo," he said.
Lazio's name can be removed from the Conservative line because he was nominated Monday as the GOP candidate for a judgeship in the heavily Democratic Bronx, where he is highly unlikely to win. Bronx GOP chairman Jay Savino said he nominated Lazio to allow Conservatives to put Paladino on their election line.
State Conservative chairman Mike Long said he'll offer Paladino the line at the party's state convention Wednesday in Albany.
Lazio said he sees both Cuomo and Paladino as "flawed individuals, flawed in terms of public character." While he ostensibly stepped aside for Paladino's benefit, he came nowhere near an endorsement of the Buffalo businessman during the 15-minute news conference.
"I remain unconvinced that Carl Paladino will bring the improvements that New Yorkers need and want," Lazio said of the man who beat him by 25 points in the Sept. 14 primary. "Nobody's going to have a job because of a slur or because somebody is called a name. New York is not going to feel any more confident with a lot of mudslinging on both sides."
Lazio acknowledged that Paladino, like one-time GOP candidate Steve Levy of Suffolk, rallied voters with greater passion, but urged him to release specific plans about how he would govern.
"I get the whole primal scream thing," he said. "But I don't see how we're going to solve a nearly $11-billion deficit next year. I see lots of slogans and I hear lots of macho talk, but I don't see a plan on how we credibly and responsibly do this."
Paladino, in an interview Monday, praised Lazio, but declined to comment on his criticism. "He has illustrated in the campaign that he talked issues, and I'm happy he's made the choice to leave the campaign," Paladino said.
Cuomo campaign spokesman Josh Vlasto said Lazio's departure from the race leaves voters a clear choice in November.
"The spotlight is now on the choice between the tea party extremism of Carl Paladino or Andrew Cuomo's record of fighting corruption, standing up for a woman's right to choose and his detailed plans to create jobs for New Yorkers," Vlasto said.
Lazio won his place as the GOP's favored candidate during the June party convention when he kept Levy from winning a place on the primary ballot.
Asked whether the party would have been better off choosing Levy, Lazio said, "I'm not going to answer that," adding, "I think there's going to be a lot of soul- searching in the Republican Party . . . and their basic leadership. There will be lots of people talking about this in the weeks and months to come." With Michael Amon